by Shira Gorelick
16 college students and young adults are experiencing Israel in a whole new way through Federation’s 6-week Onward Israel Negev Fellowship, which focuses on sustainable development in the Negev region, Israel’s “Final Frontier.”
On the second week of the trip, we focused in on issues that relate solely to the Negev that make it unique; these issues, however, have implications for Israel as a whole.
The Negev makes up a considerably large part of the tiny country. Learning about the conditions of the sub-regions within the greater Beer Sheva area allowed us to examine and explore what life is currently like in the Negev and what is to come in the near future.
Although Israel is primarily thought of and referred to as a Jewish state, it is home to people who identify with other cultures and religions. In the Negev specifically, the traditionally Nomadic Bedouin society is the fastest growing minority group. When most people think “Bedouin,” they often think of a tourist attraction: riding camels, sleeping in luxurious tents, and drinking tea. We had the unique opportunity to learn about authentic Bedouin culture from a tour guide who is a Bedouin specialist and from two women who are members of Bedouin society.
We became aware that the difficulties of integrating Bedouins into a modern urban society are deep-rooted and complex. As a traditionally nomadic culture, the Bedouin clash with the policies of the Israeli government. It’s hard to recognize and give benefits to villages that do not pay taxes or to people who don’t consider themselves Israeli citizens despite living on land that technically belongs to Israel.
The lens through which we viewed the Bedouin culture was through the two women. It was difficult for us to accept the reality of the daily struggles faced by most Bedouin women, who are bound by traditionally restrictive cultural rules. The two women who we spent time with, however, were independently making money and educating themselves.
As impressed and happy as we were to learn about the success stories, this experience led us to think about how progressive Israel really is regarding its treatment of people of all social identities, especially women. This experience definitely made me appreciate the rights I have as woman in the societies that I am a part of, and it also inspires me to want to help empower other women to fight for their fundamental rights.
The issue of urban expansion vs. preservation of nature was introduced to us during a talk by a park ranger who taught us about the environmental impact IDF activity has on the area and its natural inhabitants. This is a topic that is often neglected in modern society, as people commonly ignore or don’t learn about the effects that modern human life has on nature.
The park ranger reminded us that nature is indifferent to the boundaries we set as humans. Although we are now capable of all sorts of urban expansion, neglecting to take action to preserve nature leads to its demise. If natural cycles are continually disrupted by human activity, they will no longer be able to properly function. This has led to the extinction of many species in the area.
Within Beer Sheva, the capital of the Negev, there is a university, hospital, and a historical district. We met with members of the OR movement, which is dedicated to creating communities that will allow and influence more people to settle the Negev. We also met with students from the Ayalim project, which combines university studies and community service, who consider themselves the new pioneers of Beer Sheva. We learned the city is a conglomerate of old and new cultures, and the Ayalim are working on reviving parts of the area. Inspired by the Ayalim, we worked in a community garden…which was simultaneously fun and exhausting.
The IDF plays a crucial role in Israeli society. Although the media usually portrays the IDF in either an extremely positive or negative light, we attempted to learn more about it through a non-biased lens. The Negev has a unique relationship with the IDF, as evidenced by the Negev Brigade memorial.
In Israel, every structure has a meaning, and when we saw the incredible view of the city from the memorial, we realized how vulnerable the rest of Israel would be if the Negev were not defended and populated by the IDF. We visited the new bases being built (keeping in mind the arguments made by the park ranger) as well as the Nevatim Air Force Base. We also surveyed soldiers in the Beer Sheva bus station on their opinions about the importance of their service and about how their experience in the IDF relates to the Negev.
When we visited Tel Aviv and Jaffa, we learned about the challenges and opportunities within the city in order to better understand Beer Sheva. The day ended with us learning about the LGBT community in Tel Aviv; it’s strong and thriving, and it made us all proud to be able to be there.
Ultimately, we are being given dualistic points of views about issues, which has allowed us to develop non-biased and authentic opinions as a group as well as individually. Although this week was focused on issues that pertained mostly to the Negev, we kept in mind the importance of viewing aspects of the Negev as a microcosm of Israel as whole.
Next week, we’ll be gaining a broader perspective of the Negev outside of Beer Sheva and Arad as we explore more of Israel.
Shira Gorelick of Livingston is entering her sophomore year at Muhlenberg College. Learn more about the Onward Israel Negev Experience by visiting www.jfedgmw.org/negev.